Ohio City Hears Phantom Fireworks Proposal for Retail Sportsbook at Covelli Centre

Written By TJ McBride on March 19, 2024
Phantom Fireworks Sportsbook Covelli Centre

There’s an idea floating around Ohio about adding a new retail sportsbook to the Covelli Centre. Recently, that proposal was made public.

Phantom Fireworks is the company behind that proposal, which includes a restaurant and convention space in addition to the sportsbook. While the proposal has gained support since being pitched, not everyone is on board with the idea just yet.

Some lawmakers are working to acquire more understanding of the project’s potential impact before taking a stance. But time is bearing down on the Youngstown, OH renovation. That time crunch could accelerate the process in the coming weeks.

Retail sportsbook part of larger Covelli Centre renovation

Ohio has emerged as one of the largest gaming markets in the United States and recently was ranked sixth-largest by the American Gaming Association. One large reason for its status is the strength of the somewhat new Ohio sports betting landscape.

While sports betting is leading the push toward a top-five gaming market in the country, retail sports betting is just a tiny piece of the gaming pie. In January, over $1.1 billion was wagered on sports, but just $18.4 million of that total came from retail sportsbooks. That is just about 1.7% of the total handle.

That’s why the retail sportsbook proposal for Covelli Centre is built around an entertainment center as opposed to a dedicated sportsbook. The draw of a sportsbook alone, Michael Podlosky of Phantom Fireworks reasoned, just would not be enough.

Podlosky said:

“We realized just putting a sportsbook in the arena just wasn’t going to work. The trend has been moving toward these in-arena sportsbook restaurant combinations.”

The publicly released plan includes a three-story addition to the area that will span 25,000 square feet. The first floor will have a complete restaurant as well as a betting parlor. The second floor is where the retail sportsbook will be housed in tandem with a sports bar. There are plans for a patio area on the first floor and rooftop dining tables above the restaurant.

The cherry on top is a 4,000-square-foot convention space on the third floor, with another 2,500 square feet of outside space. The convention space would be used by the city as well as rented out to companies needing convention space. Podolsky said he is excited to have this combination convention space:

“This space is perfect for the city to host meetings, press conferences and other events, as well as allowing public and private entities and individuals to host similar activities.”

Covelli Centre sportsbook could spark entire renovation project

The hope is the development does not end with this current proposal. Podolsky said he views this as just the start of the reinvigoration of the area. It surely does not hurt that the location is great for the sportsbook.

“We see this as a stepping stone to further development for the city. Being able to do this and make it work and hopefully attract more businesses downtown is our long-term goal.”

“We think this would be a great opportunity and location for that sportsbook.”

While lawmakers are taking the process very seriously, there is support growing. Councilman Julius Oliver sees the potential in the short and long term for the Covelli Centre.

“I could definitely see the benefit of having this downtown. I always say that development brings more development, and maybe this takes us into the second phase.”

Where there is support, there is also concern. Many lawmakers need more assurance that the financials of the deal make sense for the city before moving forward.

Some lawmakers want more assurance on Phantom Fireworks financials before moving forward

The details of how much of the construction will be funded by Phantom Fireworks have been released and some lawmakers are not sold.

According to the proposal, the full project is estimated to cost $7.5 million and the city would pay $5.5 million of that total to construct the building itself. Phantom Fireworks would put forward $1.5 million to $2 million of the total to build out the interior of the first two floors. With the city making use of the convention space, Phantom Fireworks would not build out that area on the third floor.

To pay off the debt taken on by the city, Phantom Fireworks would pay the city to lease the building.

Some lawmakers feel too much of the financial onus is on the city as opposed to the developer which had led to some hesitancy. Oliver said he would like Phantom Fireworks to have, “a little more skin in the game,” and has concerns about what happens if the restaurant fails.

“At the end of the day, is that income – along with the income we would get in rent – going to be able to cover a portion of the required debt service?”

Councilman Mike Ray of the 4th Ward agrees that the deal must make sense financially for the city if plans are to move forward.

“It has to make economic sense. This is an idea. There’s a lot to work out.”

The possibility of a retail sportsbook in Covelli Centre is (kind of) on a time crunch

Another angle to the process of adding a new retail sportsbook to Covelli Centre is the time crunch.

Back in 2022, Phantom Fireworks was awarded a provisional license by the Ohio Casino Control Commission. That allowed the operator to utilize a full Type-B license which allows sports wagering at retail sportsbook. The only catch is that the gaming law in Ohio has a deadline of Jan. 1 to use the license or it can be revoked.

Phantom Fireworks was allowed a six month waiver since it had not opened its location yet, but that deadline of June 30 is fast approaching.

It is not out of the question to extend the waiver for another six months if the Ohio Casino Control Commission feels Phantom Fireworks is close to opening. But if the license is revoked by the state, there is a three-year waiting period before an operator can apply again.

With so many restrictions and unknowns surrounding the development, it could push Phantom Fireworks to accelerate the process to avoid losing its license.

Photo by Dreamstime/PlayMA
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TJ McBride

T.J. McBride is a Denver-based writer and reporter who covers sports betting for PlayOhio. His work has been featured on ESPN, CBS Sports, FiveThirtyEight, Bleacher Report and Yahoo Sports, among others.

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